About a year ago, my cousin Polly and I found ourselves searching for a textile project we could work on together. We had lived quite divergent lives but as we approached the age of retirement discovered a new friendship from our shared love of textiles and gardens – and family history.
We cast around, floated various ideas. And then I came across this blogpost by Rebecca of Needle and Spindle on GiveWraps. Lightbulb moment! – could this be what Polly and I were looking for? I emailed the link to her in hope, got an enthusiastic response, and we were away!
In a nutshell, Rebecca’s idea – implemented with her friends at the Needlework Collective – was to replace our wasteful culture of disposable wrapping paper with handmade re-usable gift-wrappers. Each GiveWrap gets a label on the back, giving the maker’s name, locality and date. Then they are set free: given, wrapped around the gift and the new owner can re-use them so (ideally) they get passed on and on and on. (Some people have been known to keep them because they like them so much …)
Polly and I were inspired. She is an artist and print-maker; I am a knitter, spinner and sewer. We were excited at the prospect of making gift-wrappers together, both because we love making things with fabrics and prints and colours, and because it is so sensible – after all, it is horrendous that so much wrapping paper gets thrown away after Christmas and birthdays.
So this is how we started. Polly gave me some of her fabric printed pictures and I stitched them together with a sort of patchwork of fabrics. This is one of the first GiveWraps we made together – one of my favourites. I wonder where it is now?There are stories in all these GiveWraps. There are stories in the fabrics I have used, where they have come from, what people I associate with them. There are stories in Polly’s prints too. (She will explain more later on.)
We were having such fun! We made contact with Rebecca and the Needlework Collective and told them how much we were enjoying ourselves making GiveWraps. Rebecca was kind enough to write a follow-up blogpost about our English take on their wizard Australian idea. By Christmas, we had made lots of GiveWraps together to send off to family and friends.We decided to set one of our GiveWraps flying back to Australia, so we sent a GiveWrap to the Needlework Collective. (The fabrics and prints have stories: Polly has printed the Japanese character for eternity in red, along with other patterns, on an old napkin that belonged to our mutual grandfather; I have stitched it onto a green backing that was once a dress belonging to my Australian grandmother.)And we received one back from them. (This one also has a story: it was made from worn and much loved shirts by Rebecca and embellished to just brilliant effect with simple decorations made from these same shirts.)And then – as is the way with the best bands – there came a point when we decided we were going to do our own thing. Not, of course, that we were splitting up – we still planned to work together again…
I’ve got a large collection of knitted tension and pattern swatches, and they lend themselves so well to GiveWrappery. This is a sample for a beaded cardigan I made myself. I have crocheted round the edge of the swatch to finish it off.These knitted swatches got me thinking. Why not knit a GiveWrap straight off? Here is my first attempt. It looks woven but is actually knitted. (I think it is what is called Woven Stitch).You can make GiveWraps from all sorts of things. Another cousin, Lucy, gave me her beloved pink cashmere cardigan when it literally fell to bits and became too moth-holed to wear, hoping I’d find some use for it. I patched the moth holes with stars, cut the arms off and gave it a fabric backing. Whey hey! – it’s a GiveWrap. Lucy got her Christmas present wrapped in this GiveWrap that year.When my mother moved to a retirement home, she gave me all her sewing materials, including these blue squares of fabric, pre-cut for some project she’d had in mind. They make a nice GiveWrap – and, of course, I used it to wrap a present to her.The best GiveWraps are made with people in mind. My son’s girlfriend, Barbara, loves cats, so I knitted this GiveWrap for her one year. (I don’t think she’s passed it on 🙂 )For my daughter Helen, I dug deep into my stash and put together a GiveWrap of all the animal print fur fabrics she loved. (I know she hasn’t passed on this GiveWrap 🙂 )This GiveWrap was made with a very special friend in mind. I wanted to convey to her what it is to live here in Northumberland, within sight of the sea. I was sewing it when the fields around the house were gold and yellow, and sky and the sea were oh so blue.Enough of my GiveWraps! Now I’m going to pass you on to Polly for her to tell you about her GiveWraps and the stories behind them.
For me the pleasure of the GiveWrap project has been in connecting with people: with Katherine and family history, with Rebecca through her original inspiration, with the friends I pass the GiveWraps on to, and more widely through Instagram. It’s a way of sending my work out into the world. It’s about value which has nothing to do with monetary value.
I was already printing a bit onto fabric with Akua inks, but with the GiveWrap impetus I went into full-scale production! As well as old family linen I used beloved worn-out clothes, and rummaged around in charity shops for interesting fabric. I got out my old lino blocks and was pleased to see these images reincarnated as repetitive patterns. Here is an early one, printed onto a woven silk scarf that Katherine’s mother (my aunt) had given me long ago.Katherine asked me to print something for her mother’s birthday – it had to be blue, her mother’s favourite colour. It turned out very blue indeed! She then backed it with her old Japanese dressing-gown and beaded the edge beautifully. Katherine is an ace sewer whereas my sewing is perfunctory – I prefer the messy business of printing and developing an image that way. You can see our mutual grandfather’s name embroidered in the corner, most likely by our grandmother.I rarely plan ahead, but start somewhere and then see where it takes me. Even when I think it’s a disaster, the Japanese kanji for eternity – repeated and dancing across the surface – will miraculously pull a design together. Katherine’s father tapestried this symbol onto a cushion cover for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, and it has become a recurrent motif in my GiveWraps (did you spot it several times in Katherine’s blog as well as in these last two pictures?)
Rebecca sent me a damaged table-cloth all the way from Australia and I had such fun working around the spoilt area and turning it into a GiveWrap. Here is the finished result:With a close-up of the rescued area:I sent it back to Australia with little English presents from Cambridge for her family. The backing is from a duvet cover I made for my parents in my 20s, fabric I still love.
Friends started giving me fabric once they saw what I was doing. I was inspired by an old sarong to print fish onto a silk handkerchief . Held up to the light you can see the fish from the backing as well as the fish I’ve printed. Often friends receive gifts wrapped in a GiveWrap of their own fabric.On the left there you can just see a silhouette of me and my mother, taken from a photo. My mother didn’t like the precise business of sewing any more than I do, but she did have an old Singer machine and there are intimations of her showing me how to thread it whenever I use my much more modern version. In my current imagery I am on a journey with my mother – though she died in 1990. Here we are together, on our way somewhere with the fish. (Katherine can’t resist commenting here that this is my favourite of Polly’s GiveWraps, and it’s with me at the moment – may not be travelling for a while!)In this one you can see my mother as a child peeping out from the corner with her doll. The Japanese onlooker is the lamp that sat on my brother’s bedside table throughout our growing-up years. She is often looking on, a kind of witness, in my images.It’s astonishing how clear printing can be on old linen, often with the added beauty of the damask pattern showing through. This one is a drypoint, for those of you interested in the printing process. I still have stacks of family table-cloths and napkins to use – what a satisfying way to give them another lease of life.I love the process of putting imagery onto fabric that already has history and meaning – texture in the fullest sense – and then turning it into a beautiful gift complete with carefully chosen ribbon. I used to be impatient with wrapping presents but now I enjoy it – no more carting rolls of wrapping paper home, no more sellotape and wasteage! The only problem is that sometimes the gift has to be chosen to fit the GiveWrap – to be honest often the present is only an excuse for the GiveWrap…….. This one’s on a silk handkerchief that belonged to my father, and I gave it to my brother for Christmas. I can’t remember what was inside……
Let’s end where we started. Recently Polly and I started making GiveWraps together again. Here are Polly’s green fish, set in watery and weedy fabrics.If you use Instagram, you can check out these and many many more GiveWraps that we – and lots of other people – have made. Search under the #GiveWrap hashtag, and be sure to add any GiveWraps you may make 🙂 . A big big thank you to Rebecca, Aisha and Emily (AKA the Needlework Collective) for setting us on this wonderful GiveWrap journey!
(If you too are inspired to make a GiveWrap, check out Rebecca’s original post for ideas and instructions.)